An introduction to shipping containers arquitecture

A viable alternative, cost-effective, and innovative unconventional building method

An introduction to shipping containers arquitecture

In the ever-evolving world of architecture, unconventional building materials and innovative design approaches constantly reshape the landscape of construction. One such remarkable innovation that has captured the attention of architects, designers, and sustainability enthusiasts alike is shipping container architecture.

Evolution and origins

The origins of shipping container architecture can be traced back to the mid-20th century when standardized steel containers revolutionized the transportation of goods across the globe. These containers, initially designed for efficient cargo transportation, offered unparalleled durability, structural integrity, and transportability. It wasn't long before creative minds recognized the potential of repurposing these containers into habitable spaces, giving rise to the concept of container architecture.

Types of shipping containers

When it comes to using containers for houses, several types are commonly employed due to their sizes, structural features, and suitability for residential purposes. The most prevalent types include:

Standard containers

  • 20-Foot Container: Measuring 20 feet in length, 8 feet in width, and 8.5 feet in height, this standard container size serves as a compact base for smaller housing units or can be combined with others for larger dwellings.
  • 40-Foot container: Double the length of the 20-foot container, measuring 40 feet in length, and retaining the same width and height dimensions. It offers more space for creating spacious homes or multi-container configurations for larger residences.

Specialized containers

  • High Cube Containers: These containers have similar dimensions to standard containers but boast additional height, usually measuring 9.5 feet tall. The extra vertical space allows for higher ceilings and enhanced air circulation within the living space.
  • Refrigerated Containers: Often called "reefers," these containers are insulated and designed for temperature control, making them suitable for regions with extreme climates. They can be converted into habitable spaces, offering the advantage of built-in insulation for temperature-sensitive housing needs.

Customized configurations

Architects and designers often combine multiple containers in various configurations to create unique and functional living spaces. Some common configurations include:

  • Single-Unit homes: Using one or more containers as standalone units for smaller residences or individual living spaces.
  • Multi-container structures: Combining several containers horizontally or vertically to create larger, multi-story homes or apartment complexes.
  • Mixed materials integration: Incorporating traditional construction materials like wood, glass, or other structural elements alongside containers to diversify the design and enhance functionality.
  • Hybrid designs: In addition to using containers as the primary building blocks, hybrid designs blend container structures with traditional construction techniques or other modular building systems to achieve specific architectural goals. This approach combines the benefits of container-based construction with the flexibility of conventional building methods.

Used building materials

The primary building material in container architecture is, unsurprisingly, the shipping container itself. Typically made from durable corten steel, these containers are resistant to rust, corrosion, and extreme weather conditions, making them ideal for construction. To transform these steel boxes into habitable spaces, architects incorporate various materials for insulation, interior finishes, flooring, roofing, and windows, ensuring comfort and functionality within the container structure.

Advantages and disadvantages


Each type of container for housing comes with its own set of advantages and challenges. Architects and builders leverage these variations in size, structure, and purpose to craft innovative, functional, and aesthetically appealing homes while addressing considerations like insulation, ventilation, layout flexibility, and adherence to building codes and regulations. The versatility of containers allows for a wide range of possibilities, encouraging creativity and customization in residential architecture.

  • Cost-Efficiency: Utilizing shipping containers as building units can significantly reduce construction costs compared to traditional building materials and methods.
  • Speed of construction: The modular nature of containers enables faster construction, leading to shorter project timelines.
  • Sustainability: Repurposing decommissioned containers reduces environmental impact by minimizing waste and recycling steel structures into functional spaces.
  • Portability: Containers can be easily transported and relocated, offering flexibility and adaptability to changing needs or locations.
  • Versatility and customization: Architects have the flexibility to create unique designs by stacking, cutting, and modifying containers to suit various architectural visions.


  • Insulation challenges: Steel containers require proper insulation to regulate interior temperatures, which can be challenging and may add to construction costs.
  • Space limitations: Standard container sizes may impose constraints on interior space design, limiting layout options for certain architectural designs.
  • Structural modifications: Altering the structural integrity of containers while maintaining their strength can be complex and require expertise.
  • Building codes and regulations: Adhering to local building codes and regulations when using shipping containers for construction can pose challenges and add complexity to projects.
  • Maintenance and durability: While durable, containers may require maintenance over time to prevent corrosion or degradation, especially in harsh environmental conditions.

Shipping container architecture, with its array of advantages and a few challenges, continues to gain popularity as a sustainable, cost-effective, and innovative approach to construction. Architects and designers around the world are pushing the boundaries of creativity while addressing the challenges associated with this unconventional building method. As the field evolves, advancements in design techniques, materials, and construction practices will likely further enhance the feasibility and potential of shipping container architecture in the future.

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